Interacting livestock and fire may both threaten and increase viability of a fire-adapted Mediterranean carnivorous plant.
Quantifying interactive effects of environmental drivers on population dynamics can be critical for a robust analysis of population viability. Fire regimes, among the most widespread disturbances driving population dynamics, are increasingly modified by and interact with human activities. However, viability of fire-adapted species is typically assessed overlooking disturbance interactions, potentially resulting in suboptimal management actions. We investigated whether increasing human disturbances in fire-prone ecosystems may pose a threat or an opportunity to improve population viability, using demographic data of the carnivorous, post-fire recruiting plant Drosophyllum lusitanicum, endemic to heathlands in the southwestern Mediterranean Basin. We built integral projection models and simulated population dynamics under different combinations of two key disturbance types affecting populations: fire and livestock browsing and trampling. We used perturbation analyses to determine potential long-term consequences of maintaining fundamentally different disturbance types. Despite most populations inhabiting browsed habitats, simulations showed a greater extinction risk in populations under high livestock pressure compared with ones under low or moderate pressures. Extinction risk decreased when fire return intervals shortened in populations under low or moderate livestock pressure; however, the opposite pattern emerged in heavily browsed populations, where short intervals between fires increased extinction. Elasticity analyses showed that decreases in viability under frequent disturbance interactions (heavy browsing and frequent fire) may be explained by selection against seed dormancy in populations with frequent browsing and trampling. This may potentially cause populations to collapse when fires kill above-ground plants without populations being able to recover from a seed bank. Synthesis and applications. Incorporating disturbance interactions can result in a different assessment of viability of a fire-adapted species than considering fire regimes alone. In Mediterranean ecosystems, fire management may be more effective when integrating moderate human activities. However, replacing fires by human disturbances, a currently widespread strategy in many fire-prone ecosystems, is not recommended since it may fundamentally alter population dynamics and selection pressures and decrease viability of fire-adapted species.